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Can you scroll on the Kindle Paperwhite

While scrolling on the Kindle app for mobile, I was asked if you can scroll on the Kindle eReader device as well. 

The Kindle Paperwhite does not allow scrolling because it will consume too much battery. Like most e-Ink devices, the Kindle Paperwhite only draws power when the screen changes. And scrolling will need to refresh the screen every time you move up a line, thereby draining the battery very quickly.

My cousin Wilson claims he grew up reading on mobile devices (he didn't). And because of that, he prefers scrolling the screen rather than turning pages. He's baffled why the Kindle Paperwhite cannot scroll. 

Here’s why.

Exhibit A. Scrolling option doesn’t exist on Kindle eReaders. And a question about the highlighted text from Benjamin Franklin. Clues are marked in this post with {!}

The e-Ink technology isn’t built for continuous refresh

“A single battery charge lasts weeks, not hours.”

This is the popular advertisement for the Kindle devices. It can achieve this thanks to advances in e-Ink technology. While on standby, the kindle can display text on the screen with little to no extra power consumption other than the LED lights.

This is very apparent when the Kindle turns to screensaver mode. Here, images are displayed on screen for long periods of time with very little battery drain. 


Only when the screen changes does the kindle draw electricity. And herein lies the problem. Scrolling will require the whole screen to refresh for every line of text that you read. This multiplies the refresh rate by a significant factor.

Take for example reading a full page at font size set to 7 of 14. This gives you at least 12 lines of text per page. If you are to scroll through these 12 lines smoothly, the Kindle will have to refresh at least 12 times more than if you were just turning the page once.

You can see how this will quickly add up and prevent the Kindle from reaching that impressive battery usage.

Aside from that, the e-Ink screen has a quality called “ghosting”. These are little traces of text that remain on screen even after turning pages. They usually go away once the device has had a chance to fully refresh the screen. It's part of how the Kindle manages its battery use.

Unless the screen is refreshed constantly, scrolling would heighten ghosting. 

As an example, take a look at the experimental browser. From the home screen, tap on the options button and then ‘experimental browser’. Then open a long page such as https://ebookdetectives.com .

Notice what happens to the screen as you scroll down. Not only is it slow, you can see previous lines carry throughout the page.

For these reasons, scrolling isn't likely to appear on e-Ink devices anytime soon.

But are we missing out? By not being able to scroll, are we being deprived of anything? To explore that question, let's take a look at why many people do like scrolling.

Common reasons why people prefer scrolling

  • For some, scrolling requires fewer hand movements.

    This is more apparent when reading in bed or in a crowded train where motion is a bit constrained.

    Still, if you hold with the left hand, you can easily turn pages forward and backward with a single tap of the thumb.
  • Scrolling allows you to fix your eyes on relatively the same spot.

    It's the page that moves, not your eyes. If you turn pages, your gaze will have to travel from the bottom of the previous page back to the top of the next page. 

    For some this could get confusing, specially if a paragraph was split between two pages. Also, dialog quotations from the previous page might be a bit harder to follow.

    Scrolling will allow you to keep the entire paragraph visible at all times.
  • You do not risk accidentally turning pages.

    Given the narrow margins on the sides of the Kindle, it is not uncommon to inadvertently tap the screen and turn the page without intending to. Sure, you can always go back, but it breaks the flow. With a scrolling screen, the worst that can happen is a slight screen movement up or down.
  • Similar to social media, scrolling can be more captivating for some.

    “Only 5 more minutes...”

    And before we know it, an hour has passed. Because scrolling can be such an automatic and less committal action than turning a page, we are arguably drawn to spend more time doing it. Some say that this behavior induces curiosity and a sense of discovery.
  • Auto-scrolling can be even more captivating

    Automatic scrolling can help text move along at a steady pace. It removes most physical action and instead enjoins the user to focus entirely on reading the text.
  • Images can appear gradually

    Scrolling allows you to move images gradually on and off the screen. Unlike turning pages where the entire image is shown right away. This often causes inconsistent white space between images and text. Especially if the images are of different sizes.

Displaying an image with lots of white space.

In the next section, let's discuss why many people prefer turning pages instead. 

Common reasons people prefer page turning over scrolling

  • Page numbers on the footer are a good measurement of reading progress.

    It is easier to gauge the progress in a book by knowing what page you are on and doing the explicit motion of turning to the next page. Compared to scrolling where the footer is usually removed and the concept of a distinct page is less apparent. 
  • Bookmarks are meant for pages.

    Scrolling makes bookmarks less recognizable. When you return to a bookmark, you'd expect to see the page exactly as you left it. However, you might already be looking at a paragraph further down the page, but a bookmark would link to the top paragraph still visible on the screen.

    This could be a bit confusing.


  • Turning pages can give more spatial landmarks and some kinesthetic feedback.

    Having a predictable page layout can give distinguishable characteristics of how the text is placed on the page. For example, we can recall how far a certain paragraph was from the top of the page. Was there a lot of white space surrounding it? Was it a series of short one liners on the same page?

    If we highlight the text, we’d also have a general impression on which part of the screen we touched. What was the position of our hands and arms? Did we shift our body in order to make that highlight?

    All these could aid in recalling passages later on.
  • Avoid momentary disorientation

    With pages, you’d always have a strong sense of where you are in the book or chapter. This minimizes the risk of losing a sense of location.

    Turning pages is also a more committal action than scrolling, and could compel the reader to be more conscious of how far along they are going.

  • It’s easier to start and stop.

    The page layout is usually very distinct specially for breaks and chapter endings. This makes for natural stops throughout the book. Whereas scrolling might blur these transitions and could lead to scroll fatigue, having no clear end in sight.
  • Turning pages follows the design of printed books.

    Aside from being closer to the reading experience, some books have intentional layouts that are integral to the text. For example, one page might have a question followed by the answer on the next page. And if you do scrolling, you might end up showing both on the same screen.


Creative alternatives to scrolling

Even though we can’t scroll on the Kindle Paperwhite, there are some experiments we can take to replicate some benefits from scrolling.

In order to conserve hand movements and minimize the risk of accidentally turning pages, we can try using external devices. 

This video shows one such solution called Kindle Lazy. It will allow you to turn pages and even adjust lighting using a wireless dongle and a USB receiver. It would require jailbraking the Kindle though.

Another example is this remote control project that uses a small robotic arm to simulate a screen tap. (On this note, my cousin Wilson might actually start reading on the Kindle if only to see this robotic arm in action).

Automatic page turns, an alternative to auto scroll

Aside from the accessibility benefit, the text to speech or VoiceView feature can automatically turn pages at an adjustable pace.

You can easily adjust the volume, possibly even turn off the sound completely if you don’t need it. And if you have to manually turn pages, you can do so by swiping with two fingers towards the left or right. 

Learning the command gestures requires a bit of patience, but once you get the hang of it, it gets quite intuitive. For more details, check the Guide to VoiceView Gestures from Amazon.

Text To Speech has gone a long way, and the voice translation is much more accurate now. However, it still cannot capture emotions the same way that audiobooks do. 

As always, if you have a Kindle or eBook question you need investigated, please do not hesitate to drop us a line.

P.S. Here’s the answer to the question in Exhibit A.

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